Millions of American Catholics loved their parochial school, or remember loving it. There is a whole sub-genre of art about this theme. But why Catholics loved their school is difficult to say. Did they feel close to the Holy Spirit? Do they love its sense of community? Or are they feeling nostalgic?
James Ricci of The Los Angeles Times failed to answer these questions in his otherwise evocative story about a Catholic elementary school in Los Angeles. Ricci suggested that the school posseses some magical qualities, but he never showed readers their source.
Ricci profiled briefly one devoted alum of Precious Blood Catholic School. Bob Reed implies that his love for the school is a mixture of nostalgia and appreciation of its sense of community:
“I would give anything to get in a time machine and go back to that era and spend the rest of my life there,” Reed said while giving a visitor a tour of the school.
“The neighborhood was actually friendlier to children than many places. Families with kids could rent a place, which was not easy to do elsewhere. Yes, we were crammed into the school, but you didn’t know any better because those were such simple times. Precious Blood school is a timeless jewel in an old neighborhood. Six decades go by, and nothing has changed.”
Yet in the midst of his mini-profile of Reed, Ricci quotes a professor who attributes the school’s appeal to another source:
Paul Contino, a literature professor and associate director of Pepperdine University’s Center for Faith and Learning, said such schools have survived “because they offer something distinctively spiritual at their heart that’s very precious and that people value a great deal. There’s something about being spiritually attuned that encourages being receptive and attentive in the classroom, and even being creative.”
So which is it? Is the appeal of parochial schools “distinctively spiritual,” nostalgic, or communal?
Ricci need to answer this question. According to Catholic theology at least, pure nostalgia is heretical. It enshrines virtue and goodness in the past, not the present. In so doing, nostalgia denies the power of the Holy Spirit to shower graces upon God’s children.
By not answering this question, Ricci presented Reed as the Martin Sloan of Precious Blood. Sloan was the chief character of Rod Serling’s short story, and later Twilight Zone episode, who seeks to return to his boyhood hometown when he was a child, and does.
No doubt Reed told Ricci about his unvarnished feelings for Precious Blood. But Ricci should have asked Reed if he felt any spiritual or religious connection to the school. In the absence of this question, Reed’s love for his boyhood school seems universal rather than, well, parochial.